Mechanix Illustrated - August 1974
-Finally.. A Motorhome Built for Travel -
A Motorhome is a house on wheels and by now quiet a few people have produced models that were comfy, good-looking and even good-driving. But virtually all have been in the home business, not the vehicle business. The builders could be called carpenters who bought a truck chassis in order to fit a cabin on it.
Now, with a motorhome from General Motors, we have the prospect of being able to buy a full-fledged rig made and sold by a company whose primary business is vehicles, not houses. And it's this that we mean in out title, since in one way all motorhomes are built for travel. Motorhomes recently have run head-on into the energy crisis, but they remain in other ways the same wonderful and enjoyable vehicles.
We're talking about the GMC 260, a 26-footer that came out early last year. It carries a 455-cu.-in. V8 engine netting 260 hp, which will push it faster than most people want to go. It's mounted on a 160-in. wheelbase, has a GVW of 11,200 lbs. and a payload of 1,600 lbs. Interior equipment is standard - stove, sink, furnace, air conditioner, shower, toilet and sleeping for four. Sticker price was $18,612. Since the introduction of the 260, GMC also has come out with a 230 (23 ft.), and plans 20- and 28- footers.
About the first thing that strikes you about the 260 is it's superiority as a vehicle. The fact that GMC has much know-how in building vehicles hits home quickly as you step inside, close the door and feel the solid thunk of a proper auto-type door.
Then you go into the cockpit, fire things up and move off and you realize that GMC has a coach of a size that ordinarily would be something to reckon with but here is as simple as Abe's cabin. It handles as well as the average car and even better than some. The driver sits in a raised area that gives maximum visibility and control. The seat is well proportioned and positioned. Total effect: the GMC is the best-driving, best handling motorhome we've tried.
In fact, on drivability, there are only two detrimental observations. First, the driver sits in front of the front wheels. Thus, the steering effect is that of a van. There's nothing anyone can do about this. Anyone who buys a 260 (as with most motorhomes, in fact) just has to learn the technique of van driving.
And second, it's obvious that truck makers have had a lot to say in the design of the 260. The vehicle can be treated just like a car until it comes time to back up. Then the driver is called on to to exhibit the skill of a trucker. Like a truck, the 260 is designed to be backed with two outside mirrors.
There's no way the driver can stick his head through the tiny side window and keep his hands on the wheel, too. It would be possible for GMC to correct this. Except for that drawback, it's a good window, with no whistling, difficulty opening or billowing curtains.
The 260 has a much vaulted air-bag suspension. It may be the most-important break-through in motorhome suspensions ever. The device consists of a couple of high-pressure air-bags, each about the size of a gallon can, that react through electronic sensing system to keep the coach level.
Each time we came into a fast turn we could feel the just starting to shift its weight and then the suspension system would cut in and we'd guild through. If there's a fault it could be that the system is likely to make drivers careless because it compensates for a lot of error at the wheel.
The air bags also may have a small flaw in that they incorporate controls in the cockpit that let you release air from one bag or both to level the coach for camping. It's a boon to a tired camper - until he wakes up next morning and finds the bags are all the way down. And they may not go back up - which happened to us.
We were in northern Vermont at Thanksgiving, a time when the mercury can get low. What happened was simple. An air valve froze. Since then we've met another 260 camper who had the same experience. Anyway, we drove around 24 hrs. with the coach on the bottom and the wheels rubbing the wells until the bags came back up by themselves.
You'd think - what with GMC having so many dealerships and the fact that Chevy trucks are almost identical to GMC trucks - it would be easy to get service on the motorhome. We tried for air-bag service on the motohome by calling the emergency number provided to GMC motorhome owners and were told only a motorhome service center would do the job. The nearest one to Vermont was Boston. After that, New Jersey.
A major consideration of the 260 as a vehicle has to be the drive system. The rig uses tandem freewheeling axles in the rear in conjunction with the air bags and front drive systems (built off Oldsmobile's Toronado) to deliver power. On one hand you can't help but feel that much good handling and riding is due to this arrangement. And if a camper stays on civilized roads and never gets near snow or mud he could be happy.
But if he's going to get off the beaten track or travel in snow he going to want to think about what he's getting into. Ordinary street tires will hardly move the 260 out of the driveway if there's snow on the ground - which we discovered to our chagrin. We had to shut down in the middle of the night when we ran into 1/2 of snow on the ground and couldn't get up a mild grade. The problem is that the vehicle has a lot of weight over the rear wheels that just comprises a load rather than helping to provide traction.
The president has asked us not to go over 50 mph, and at that speed we got a hair over 8 mpg. It's no economy vehicle but motorhomes never are.
There ase some interesting things regarding the 260 as a house. Generally, the thoughtfulness of design and level of workmanship is high. For example, on cabinet work, you don't end up feeling - as you do on so many motorhomes - that grandpa would have been appalled at the cheap insides.
In fact, this is a high mark for them that while cabinet work is not even supposed to be their thing, they've turned out to be top-notch carpenters.
Most motorhomes have curtains to be drawn everynight and opened every morning. GMC has thoughtfully sewn a dowel into each curtain end. You grasp it by the middle and it's stiffness lets you flick the curtains along the track with a single swish.
And motorhome double beds sometimes are made up of opposing couches. You may struggle with a piece of plywood and couch backs. GMC has engineered the master bed so that the couch backs swing up, forward and down until they rest together on cantilevered supports.
GMC has blanketedd the machine with such thinking. The bathroom light is a spring loaded push button. A side table-and-chair console lets you sit down without having to slide under a table.
But the brains at General Motors still have to learn some elementary things about motorhomes. For example, the bathroom. There's a common-sense rule that says if you don't hang a shower curtain between the shower and the bathroom door you end up with a soggy carpet. And a wet toilet seat.
GMC in this test also proved that other manufacturers have no monopoly on defective signal lights, loose cabinet door latches, a leaky holding tank, defective furnace and a system monitor that didn't mon. But we've run onto all these problems before and, in fact, would be surprised to pick up a new motorhome that didn't have some such defects.
What we won't forget is the vehicle's parking brake, since that sort of thing is supposed to be within GMC's expertise. We've seen this kind of brake lever before, but thought it went out in the 40's. It's a rod hinged in the middle with the hinged part spring-loaded so that as you let off the brake you have to pull against the spring until you reach mid-point, when it relaxes. In itself it wouldn't be great, but they have the thing positioned dead against the side panel under the dash. Needless to say, you have to use both hands to get a grip on it and eventually end up trying not to use it, which isn't good.
In summing up, GMC has a good thing in its new motorhome. And when they start correcting the few mistakes they've made, we hope they don't mess with all the things they did right the first time - B.D.M..
EXCELLENT cockpit and driver seating mark the GMC. It gets high score on drivability.
SOME don't like the fish-bowl effect of wide glass. We found it added to camping joys.
SIDE console on 26-footer allows quick rest without having
to slide under table.